Monday, December 14, 2015

Telugu-medium students do better at math than English-medium students - report

A recent report (PDF, 18 p. + appendices) concludes that "Telugu (mother tongue) medium students on an average perform significantly better as compared to English medium students after controlling for students ability, household characteristics and parental aspiration. This analysis suggests that introducing English medium of instruction at earlier grades during school life may negatively affect learning outcomes of students."

The report's author P. Sree Kumar Nair compared math test score data of 182 primary school students from 78 English-medium schools and 694 students in 144 Telugu-medium schools in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He asks "does medium of instruction affect learning outcomes?" His answer is yes, it does. But the material conditions of these two groups of students are quite different. He notes:

"Summary statistics indicate that Telugu medium students are still substantial in number and are a disadvantaged lot as they not only have fewer infrastructural facilities but also their nutritional levels are significantly lower than their counterparts. Such a situation leads to lower cognitive development of students. Moreover Human Development Report of Telangana (2014) also reveals that there is lesser accountability on the part of government school permanent teachers that offer Telugu medium education. Against all such odds, there exists a strong potential for Telugu medium students to perform better. Thus, this evidence supports the claim that this paper strives to make about the need to give importance to mother tongue based education at primary levels of education." (p. 16)

Thus, the report cautions against changing the medium of primary education from Telugu to English. "In other words, a step towards a transition of schools at primary level from Telugu to English medium might create larger inequalities by widening the gap in the achievement levels.... Moreover, insistence on instruction in English is certainly a barrier for the poor, rural and lower caste students as revealed by this study." (p. 16-17).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ghana to change English as medium of instruction

The education minister of Ghana recently announced that the country will soon replace English as the medium of instruction in schools. A news report said that the minister, Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, holds the medium of instruction responsible for "the inability of the educated working class to develop the nation...." She declared: "Once we can remove [English as the medium of instruction], we will change this country."

Interestingly enough, the minister herself is trained in English literature and has published on African literature and women's writings, as well as on higher education.

Comparing the progress of South Korea with that of Ghana, she noted, “Because the Koreans were taught in a language they understood, education picked up; because we are teaching our children a language they can’t even follow, we are drawing them back."

Not surprisingly, there's been a storm of discussion. See these comments, for example. Among those who have commented is Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, a well-known activist for linguistic human rights. She says:

"All research in the world, and masses of practical experience shows that teaching children in a language that they know, and later teaching them other languages well as foreign languages, leads to high levels of multilingualism, good school achievement, self-confidence, and later good jobs. Mother-tongue-based multilingual education leads to much better competence in English too! Congratulations Ghana for a really wise decision!"

The minister did not talk about the language(s) that will replace English. Ethnologue lists 81 languages for Ghana. English is the official language. The biggest language for wider communication is Akan. People fear that after English, Akan will dominate the education system. Discussing "The mother tongue question" Kwabena Nyamekye asks, "What do we do to benefit from a native language policy while at the same time avoid other languages vanishing from the scene?" The author recommends the use of local and regional languages as teaching languages. A wise suggestion.

But, as the author warns, "The grumbling about the Akan language domination can easily get louder and louder if something is not done."

Friday, August 28, 2015

Early childhood report overlooks language

The Law Commission of India has just published a good report called "Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements" (PDF). In a brief 73 pages it offers a useful overview of the concept and importance of early childhood care; the international conventions, treaties and declarations on the subject; the (Indian) constitutional context; and the various national policies and schemes dealing with health and nutrition, as well as care and education. The report concludes with a list of recommendations to strengthen the "statutory backing" for the various provisions already in existence.

The recommendations include making mandatory free preschool education (rather than optional as it currently is under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RtE)). But the report is silent on what this might mean for children of Indigenous peoples and linguistic minorities (ILM -- incidentally, ilm is the Urdu word for knowledge and learning). As things stand, when a ILM child enters primary school, hardly anywhere in the country does she receive education in the mother tongue. The report's silence on the issue of medium of instruction indicates that for ILM children preschool education too will be in a non-mother tongue.

This flies in the face of the report's declaration that, "There should be a reference to quality of education in the Rules. Education for children under six must mean quality education and care to prepare them for elementary school and anything less than that should not be called education" (p. 61). Brave words! Similarly, the report also enjoins the state to provide training of preschool teachers "to ensure quality standards and a proper implementation of the best methods of promoting play and learning" (p 72). Let us hope that these admonitions to provide quality education through play and learning translate into a mother-tongue-medium education for our children.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tanzania schools to shift to Swahili from English

Tanzania is overhauling its education system. (I haven't been able to find an English translation of the new education policy yet. But the Swahili version seems to be this PDF document: Sera Ya Elimu Na Mafunzo 2014 (Policy of Education and Training 2014).)

A prominent feature of the new education policy is to shift to Swahili as the medium of instruction at all levels. Kiswahili is currently the language of instruction at the primary level, and English is taught as a subject. Thereafter, English becomes the medium of instruction from the secondary level to higher education. This is set to change. But as a news report says: "The document says the government will continue strengthening English in teaching along with Kiswahili during the transition period because using only Kiswahili will require a lot of resources."

However, it is unclear whether this shift will apply to private, fee-paying schools as well. The new policy envisages some regulation of private education. As the news report says: "After years of being driven by market forces, private schools in Tanzania will have a regulator to ensure that the cost of education is realistic and provides value for money. The idea is to make sure that school owners do not overcharge parents who shun public schools in search of quality education in the mushrooming private schools."

But there is no mention in the news report of whether the private schools' medium of instruction will also be regulated. In the absence of that, as one observer warns: "I suspect one effect of this legislation will be an increase in enrollments in private schools that continue to offer tuition in English. Keep an eye open for politicians opening new English medium schools in the near future!"

English-medium education thus will once again create two streams of learners. The first of those in poorly resourced, poorly run government schools which have a non-English medium of instruction. To these will come those who cannot afford the second stream. This second stream being low-cost, fee-paying, English-medium schools. Parents send children to these schools at great expense. But these too have poor learning outcomes. As indeed we have seen in the case of the Andhra Pradesh School Choice Study.

The (urban) elites, in Tanzania as in India, are far removed from these problems, as an observer remarks: "Their children go to international schools [where the language of instruction is English]. We, the poor ones, will continue with going to under-performing and poorly equipped schools and continue with our English of ya, ya, yes no yes no. At the same time their children are speaking English fluently."